Saturday, 7 November 2015

Malling parkrun

Most parkrun venues are named after an actual town, locality or the venue the run takes place at. Malling parkrun is a little different in that it is named after part of the district which it lies within (Tonbridge and Malling). As I understand it, as there is already a parkrun in Tonbridge there was a desire to use Malling in order to reflect and balance out the use of both names of the borough.

leybourne lakes country park [photo: 7t]

This is fine, but it can be a tad confusing for visiting parkrunners trying to work out where they are heading. There are towns to the south of this venue called West Malling and East Malling, but not one called Malling. West Malling was historically known as Town Malling, but that is as close as you get. In any case, the venue for this event is actually closer to New Hythe, Snodland, Larkfield and Leybourne than it is to either of the Mallings. 

i like this. it's has a touch of  'adam west batman' about it

The point is, if you are planning to visit Malling parkrun make sure you check out the map and directions on the venue's course page before leaving home so that you understand where you are actually heading. Also pay special attention to where your sat nav is directing you because it could take you far, far away from the actual venue. Ours started to take us off in a weird direction after we left the M2 and it didn't feel right so we pulled over and sorted it out. We also managed to tear a hole in the side of one of our tyres in the process of turning around. Whoops.

the run briefing [photo: 7t]

So. The venue for this run is Leybourne Lakes Country Park (Leybourne Lakes parkrun would have been a perfect name, don't you think?). The 230 acre (93 hectare) country park was formed from the remains of a former sand and gravel works. Extraction for these minerals took place between 1946 and 1977. Extensive planting and landscaping took place when the area underwent a restoration project in the late seventies.

the view from the start line [photo: 7t]

The country park itself was opened in 2004 and is now home to many forms of wildlife. Of course the big feature of this park are the lakes, and they are well used for watersports such as windsurfing, kayaking and scuba diving. The Leybourne Lakes Watersports Centre is the base for these activities. Triathlon is another sport with a strong connection to these lakes and many events are held throughout the year here.

some local residents [photo: 7t]

The venue has its own car park, but unfortunately it isn't very big so I would expect it to fill up every week. It costs 80p to park for up to four hours and is easily accessible from the A228 dual carriageway. For anyone residing close enough to consider cycling, there are some bicycle racks in the car park and also plenty of other tethering options over at the run start/finish area. New Hythe looks to be the closest train station, but there is also one at Snodland.

no course marshals but these signs were displayed where required [photo:7t]

The toilets are situated next to the main car park and served their purpose nicely. It takes a couple of minutes to walk from the car park down to the start/finish area, which is on the north bank of the main lake. The run takes place at 9am every Saturday and features two clockwise laps of the main stony gravel footpath around the lake. We visited the venue on their sixth event and even at such a young age they were already attracting around 150 runners each week (231 on the week we visited due to other local cancellations).

you'll be treated to views like this if you visit leybourne lakes [photo:7t]

The start area is wide enough to accommodate a decent number of runners and the paths are spacious enough to allow runners and other park users to co-exist. We decided to buggy run the course and it was a little bumpy going over the stony path, but it is still easily buggy-runable. As the runners work their way around the lap they very rarely lose sight of the lake and there is an abundance of lush greenery to soak in. The course was signed at key points, but as the course is simple to follow, no marshals were actually positioned out on the course itself.

finish funnel [photo: dani]

There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting and as you near the end of the lap you can look across the water to the start/finish area which I thought was quite cool. It's not always as calm and tranquil as you might imagine; the reason for this is that part of the course runs adjacent to the fairly busy Leybourne Way main road. This certainly doesn't spoil what is a really nice venue to run at, and as it is a flat course it is a good choice for going for a quick time.

dartford parkrun does malling parkrun [photo: a friendly volunteer]

Sadly, there is no cafe at Leybourne Lakes Country Park. I hear that a mobile coffee van is usually present but it wasn't there the week I visited. I think this may have been due to the heavy rain that was forecast. Somehow we managed to get around the course, have a chat with the event director, get back to the car, replace the punctured tyre (big thanks to Alec) and get back on the road before the torrential rain was unleashed upon us.

If you'd like to see my GPS data of the course you can view it on Strava - Malling parkrun 6

Sunday, 2 August 2015

South Oxhey parkrun

The North West corner of London has been under-represented in terms of parkrun venues, but in the first half of 2015 a cluster of new parkrun events popped up in quick succession around the Watford area giving a few varied options for local runners. Most of the venues are not technically in London, but are within the M25 which kind-of counts.

As you will know from the title of this post, this particular post is about South Oxhey parkrun, which takes place on South Oxhey Playing fields (Oxhey Playing Fields according to the welcome sign). But before I get into any parkrun specific information, I've done my best to briefly go over the history of the immediate area that the park lies within. However, not all of the resources I found had matching information so please forgive me for any inaccuracies..

oxhey or south oxhey playing fields? anyway, welcome [photo: 7t]

It all starts with The Manor of Oxhey whose earliest reference I could find dates back to around 1007. Then somewhere around the year 1500, The Oxhey Hall Estate is mentioned and this covered approximately 500 acres of land. The Oxhey Hall estate was eventually broken up with a large portion probably merged into the nearby Manor of Wiggenhall.

The remaining estate was now known simply as Oxhey. In 1612 a chapel was built and it still stands just a short way south of where our parkrun now resides. The mansion on the estate at this time was known as St. Cleeres. In 1688 St Cleeres was pulled down.

the sight upon entering the park next to the pavilion [photo: 7t]

In 1690 a new mansion was built in the style of Syon House (which is in West London). Now known as Oxhey Place, it survived for 139 years but was eventually demolished in 1799. In 1877 the estate was bought by Thomas Blackwell of Crosse and Blackwell fame and another Oxhey Place looks to have been constructed in 1910. He was a descendant of another Thomas Blackwell who, in 1706, had co-founded the famous pickling company.

By 1912, the area that now forms the park was home to Oxhey golf course, but in 1952 the golf course was closed and the area around it developed into local authority housing. The whole area was renamed South Oxhey and the former golf course became South Oxhey Playing Fields. In 1960, while being used as a medical centre, Oxhey Place burned down.

hanging out at the start line [photo: dani]

On 31 January 2015, South Oxhey playing fields became home to South Oxhey parkrun. The inaugural event attracted 143 participants, but since then the attendance numbers have generally been around the 30-50 mark. I know the organisers are keen to attract more runners, but with many events attracting hundreds of runners, I found it quite refreshing to visit a venue with a lower headcount.

Travelling to the event is relatively straight forward. I travelled over by car and parked in the free car park at the Pavilion pub which is right next to the start/finish area. Had I chosen to travel by public transport I could have taken the overground train to Carpenders Station and walked/jogged the rest of the way (1km).

about to set off [photo: dani]

Alternatively, I could have taken a number 8 bus and alighted at Hayling Road which is just a few minutes walk from the start/finish area. Finally, if travelling by bike, I didn't spot any proper bicycle racks by the start, but I could have secured it to the fence outside the Pavilion beer garden for the duration of the run.

As far as facilities go, there are some toilets in-between the car park and the park - there are no permanent signs on this building and it doesn't look like a toilet. Fortunately, the parkrun organisers have a big sign that they place on the toilet door. Then when you enter the park, it is an open flat-looking playing field. I'm pretty sure that I could see traces of shapes that looked like parts of the former golf course - or I may just have been imagining it.

note the pavilion pub and bicycles locked to the fence [photo: dani]

So, I had a little chat to the core team and found out that they were the people originally looking to start a parkrun in Rickmansworth, but that got canned and they moved their sights to South Oxhey. A couple of minutes before parkrun o'clock the standard parkrun briefing took place. As it is a small venue, the briefing was very relaxed and every single first-timer was individually welcomed during the briefing - you can't do this at larger venues and it certainly added to its charm.

We were then lead about 100 metres or so south to the start line. This course is just under three clockwise laps of the eastern half of the park and can be run entirely on grass if you wish. Broadly speaking, the course is shaped like a rectangle.

coming back down towards the start-finish with my run companions [photo: dani]

The run starts at the lowest point of the park on a flat section and after the first right hand turn its a long steady incline, passing various outcrops of threes, all the way to the furthest point of the course, which is also the highest point. It only rises 15 metres over the course of 800 metres but it does eventually wear you down. Also the grass is uneven in places and there are molehills to look out for as you make your way around.

Once at the highest point of the course it's a good idea to take a glance to back down the hill and admire the nice view, but because of where the outcrops of trees stand, you can't actually see right down to the start area. In fact, from the start area there is absolutely no clue that the route is going to head uphill.

still coming downhill [photo: dani]

The second half of the lap is, of course, downhill. It's not a straight forward even decline; it has sections that dip down and then level out. And once again you have to watch out for uneven ground and molehills otherwise you could get yourself into a bit of a pickle.

About half way down, there is a little shimmy where the course cuts through a darker undercover spot which leads out onto the section where the runners have a choice of continuing onto the tarmac path or sticking to the grass. I imagine this will be quite handy in the winter months as those in spikes can keep to the grass, and those in anything else can take a break from the soft (and possibly muddy) grass.

taking the tarmac path [photo: dani]

This path leads right up to the start/finish area where runners continue around for another lap or, if they are at the end of their third lap, run into the finish funnel, collect a finishing token and get it scanned by one of the lovely volunteers.

When I visited, the barcode scanning was being done by a blind lady who was taking a week off running. She had some assistance from another volunteer who gave a verbal description of the type of barcode being presented (mine was a wristband) and it was scanned in the usual manner. It shows that there are always ways to make, not only the run inclusive, but also the volunteering roles.

waiting to be scanned [photo: dani]

The post-run social is simply a portable coffee van which parks up right next to the finish line. The results were on-line a few hours later. If you're interested in the course profile and all that, my GPS data can be found on Strava.

My daughter Matilda was very eager to go to the Hayling Road Playground so, sadly, we didn't grab a coffee or spend any real time chatting afterwards. For the record it was a great little playground and.....

post-run hammocking [photo: dani]

..... this is the only venue I have visited to date that has the option of chilling in a hammock post-run!

Saturday, 1 August 2015

The Herfordshire parkrun venues


Aldenham - Aldenham Country Park, Elstree, Hertfordshire (London+)

Course: Two laps around Aldenham reservoir
Underfoot: Dirt paths, grass and pavement
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED

Barclay - Barclay Park, Hoddlesdon, Hertfordshire

Course: Three laps
Underfoot: Grass and Tarmac
Profile: Undulating (tbc)
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED

Cassiobury - Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire (London+)

Course: Two and a half laps
Underfoot: Tarmac
Profile: Flat
Notes: Flat, fast and a very pleasant course (has a couple of tight turns)
Further reading: My Cassiobury parkrun blog post

Gadebridge - Gadebridge Park, Leighton Buzzard Road, Hemel Hempstead

Course: tbc
Underfoot: Tarmac and grass
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED

Panshanger - Panshanger Park, Thieves Lane Entrance, Hertford, Hertfordshire

Course: 1 lap (or point to point)
Underfoot: trail paths, grass, dirt (mud)
Profile: undulating with a short uphill finish
Notes: fun course in a beautiful country park, but that short uphill finish is tough!
Further reading: My Panshanger parkrun blog post

South Oxhey - South Oxhey Playing Fields, Green Lane, Watford (London+)

Course: Three laps
Underfoot: Grass (you can run about 150 metres each lap on tarmac if you choose)
Profile: Long steady incline / decline on each lap
Notes: You can chill out in a hammock post-run
Further reading: My South Oxhey parkrun blog post

St. Albans - Verulamium Park, St. Albans, Herfordshire

Course: Out - three laps of a lake, then back
Underfoot: Tarmac (grass at the start/finish)
Profile: flat with just the slightest of gradients during the out / back
Notes: Hang around and enjoy some of the Roman history
Further reading: My St. Albans parkrun blog post

Tring - Tring Park, Herfordshire

Course: One lap
Underfoot: Grass, dirt (mud)
Profile: Hilly (from what I hear)
Notes: I hear that it is beautiful
Further reading: NOT YET VISITED

Monday, 27 July 2015

Lesnes Abbey Abbey Abbey Woods junior parkrun 15 - V200

Event 15 at Lesnes Abbey Abbey Abbey junior parkrun saw me take on a few volunteering roles...

  • Run director (inc. briefing)
  • Warm-up leader
  • Barcode Scanner

.. which all worked out fine.

run briefing (apparently me and matilda found something funny) [photo: dani]

A few weeks back, I said that if I ever did the run briefing at a junior parkrun that I would like to do it in the way I saw it being done over at Hilly Fields junior parkrun. However, I didn't quite plan things properly and I ended up just using the standard briefing format. Next time I definitely want to make it a bit snappier. I did have the pleasure of presenting one of the juniors with his half-marathon wrist band.

It was a bit of a special occasion for me as this event marked the 200th event I had been credited with volunteering at across seven different venues. For the record, my total number of credited tasks stands at 223. That's way off what it actually is, but let's not worry about that.

run briefing (again) [photo: dani]

Back to the business of the day, and right up until 5 minutes before the start of the run, Matilda was intent on helping me run direct. I told her that it would be boring and that she should just run, but still she insisted on helping me.

She had volunteered the day before at Dartford parkrun (where I ran) and I wanted to repay the favour. Somewhere between the run briefing and the warm-up she had changed her mind and decided to run.

warm-up [photo: dani]

I hung around the LAAAWjpHQ for the duration of the run and it wasn't long before we had a little stumble and one of the young runners had hurt his knee. Then the rain started and we all got wet.

The remainder of the run was incident-free and the runners soon started streaming through the finish funnel where I was waiting with my zapper, ready to scan all of their barcodes. And there were so many! In fact it was a new LAAAWjp attendance record! [event 15 results]

matilda brought hello kitty along for a run [photo: dani]

Matilda enjoyed her three solo laps and I let her scan her own barcode at the end. The other volunteers made my job look very easy and at the end they all brought back their respective signs and we left the Abbey to it's rainy self for another week. We jumped back in the car and headed home to dry off.

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